Utah’s Senate Race Boosts Primary Voter Turnout
Tuesday's polls haven't even opened but early voting numbers suggest Salt Lake County could have its highest voter turnout ever in a primary.
Whether it's the draw of a high-profile Senate race involving a former presidential candidate, convenience or heightened political interest in the age of Trump, a larger proportion of Utah voters already have cast their ballots for the 2018 midterm primaries than the total turnout in the 2016 primary season.
A third of eligible voters — 33 percent — in Salt Lake County have cast their ballots, County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said. That’s up from 27 percent total participation in the 2016 primary.
“The primary turnout, I think, will be the highest we’ve ever had,” Swensen said.
Primaries typically have lower participation than general elections. Swensen believes this year’s high turnout is driven by a couple things.
“Absolutely the U.S. Senate race,” she said. “Also, I think the convenience of vote by mail and people getting more used to it.”
Swensen said she’s received a number of calls from confused unaffiliated voters who want to cast a ballot in the Senate primary, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is facing off with state lawmaker Mike Kennedy.
“We only mailed ballots [in that race] to registered Republicans because it’s a closed primary,” she said. “If someone was unaffiliated, we mailed a letter to them asking if they wanted to affiliate in order to receive a ballot.
Out of about 200,000 sent letters, Swensen said her office only received about 15,000 replies.
It’s not too late for would-be voters to cast a vote on Tuesday. Under a law passed earlier this year, every county in the state now has same-day voter registration at polling locations.
“They would be required to show ID and proof of residency. That would be a utility bill, a bank statement, something with their name and address printed on it,” Swensen said.
As mail-in ballots come in, Salt Lake County elections staffers feed them through machines which sort, count and separate the ballots for tallying. The machines ensure that every ballot mailed in is kept secure and secret.
Monday is the last day to postmark mail-in ballots. At this point, Swensen said ballots that haven’t been mailed by Monday are unlikely to get postmarked in time.
“Putting it in your mailbox, expecting your postman to pick it up and get it postmarked, it isn’t going to happen,” she said.
Mail-in ballots that haven’t been postmarked can still be cast at county-designated drop boxes before the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.